Biking, running going well... Swimming, not so much
March 23rd, 2011
09:41 AM ET

Biking, running going well... Swimming, not so much

As training continues for the 2011 CNN Triathlon Challenge, Dr. Scott Zahn of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is finding success as well as struggles.

It has been almost two months since Atlanta, and exercising and eating healthier have become the routine. The weight loss and increased fitness are quite dramatic from where I started in November when I decided that it was time to get serious and get healthy.

Everyone is amazed at the changes. Comments like “you look great,” and “you’re melting away,” are a daily occurrence. That makes me feel great and the positive reinforcement keeps you going.

Underneath all this excitement there is still one thing that I struggle with – doubt. I have no doubt that I can complete the biking and the running part of the tri, but it is the swimming part that I have no confidence in.

This past weekend I biked 16 miles one day and ran 5 miles the next. I feel very confident that when August 7 comes I will be ready for that part.

I never realized the challenge of the swim portion. It is so different from the other events. First of all you need to think about breathing. If you don’t breathe, you drown and if you don’t do it right you’re going to be swallowing the Hudson River. Nobody wants to do that. It’s very technique driven and uses a whole different group of muscles compared with the other events.

I’m trying to think about head position, high elbows, reach on the stroke, stay level, kick from the hip and, oh yeah, don’t forget to breathe. That’s a lot to think about and harder to do it all correctly. Will I ever be able to put it together? I’m not sure. Am I feeling more comfortable in the pool? Sure, but I am much further along in the biking and running.

It is about 140 days until the triathlon, 20 weeks, which will be about 40 more swim sessions. That’s a lot of swimming. I am sure that as August comes around I will feel more comfortable and a lot of this will become more natural. Right now, that seems a long way off. At least I have the current of the Hudson to push me along. I just hope that I don’t swallow too much of it along the way.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. TriHardStasia

    Scott, don't worry about the swim. Short leg of the tri. The cheetos bag did it with current....you can do it with 6+ months of training. and besides you'll be able to make up any lost time on the bike and run portions. You're doing great!! Can't wait to see you and everyone in a few weeks 😀 ALOHA!

    March 23, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. trigal

    Wear a wet-suit if your event allows, it definitely helps to keep you afloat a little better. Stick to the back of the pack furthest away from the course markers. Most of the pack will be swimming close to the markers, you will want to avoid being kicked, so stay further away from them. You might end up swimming slightly longer, but if you avoid a kick in the face and a mouth full of water in the mean time it's definitely worth it. The most difficult part of the swim is avoiding other swimmers, practice looking up and ahead everytime few times you take a breath. Swimming in dark murky water is MUCH different than swimming in a crystal clear pool where you can see everyone around you. The more swim practice you have the better off you will be. Also, wear your goggles under your swim cap... in the event you get tangled up with someone, your goggles won't go flying off. Good Luck!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Amanda

    I would highly recommend taking a Master swim class or a Total Immersion clinic. These helped my swimming efficiency and confidence immensely. I would also echo trigal's comments–stay out of the washing machine of swimmers near the buoys, and practice sighting so that you stay on course. The best way to do this is to practice in open water. As much as you swim in a pool, open water can still be scary because it's a totally different feel. Do it before the race, and you'll be much more confident on race day!

    March 23, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Gerardo

    Hi Scott, I just start training for a Half Ironman I felt the same way. The swimming part is giving me a hard time, never done that before.

    March 23, 2011 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jim

    I feel his pain and anxiety with the swimming struggles. I was a distance runner and cyclist that couldn't swim 25 yards without panting for nearly a minute before I did the return 25 yards. In Austin, TX, there are at least two triathlon training groups that offer beginners stroke-and-efficiency courses. Generally, these are one-hour sessions held twice weekly over a six-week period. I took one and struggled through my first Sprint-Tri, which covered 700 meters (with a wetsuit). It took me 7 minutes to get in-and-out of transition and 4 miles on the road before I felt I had recovered from the swim. I stayed with it, practicing two-to-three times weekly, and can now swim 1 1/2 miles very comfortably, albeit very slowly. I've gone on to do 2 half-Ironmen events and am planning for a full Ironman (suffered a heart-attack six months before my first half-Ironman while training for my first Olympic distance event). I started this triathlon thing at age 55 and am now 60 doing 2-5 events a year so their is hope for all y'all!

    March 23, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Gerard

    Scott hang in there man. Last year in the Chicago Tri I was freaking out about the swim due to lack of confidence and ended up getting out of the water under 30 min! With all the work and dediciation you are putting you have no reason to worry. Good Luck and have fun with it!

    March 23, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dave


    The NYC Tri is a FANTASTIC race! Best spectators of any race i've run and beautiful swim, bike and run courses. The swim (due to the current) is the equivalent of a little more than 1/2 a mile time wise (at least for me) so don't worry about the distance, the current (and a wetsuit) are your saviors!

    Don't forget to have fun though and get a swim coach, even a few lessons can help you "feel" how you are supposed to swim to be more efficient and then you can stop thinking and start enjoying it!

    March 23, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. TriHardNina

    Hey there, Friend Scott!! You are doing great! We will all even ourselves out– I am so impressed with your running 10 minute miles; running is my "weakest link" but I'm working hard on it just like you are with swimming. Looks like we're in for a lot of "open water" practice in a few short weeks – can't wait to see everyone again! 🙂

    March 25, 2011 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Nicole

    I'll second the recommendation to take a Master's class or clinic, I'd go so far as to say take a few private lessons.
    -Wear a wetsuit if you're comfortable swimming in it-it's a great extra physical (and mental) buoy but make sure you train in it multiple times prior to race day (getting in and out can be tricky the first few times).
    -Practice sighting, otherwise you'll end up swimming twice the distance.
    -Definitely get out in open water as soon as possible otherwise the first time something brushes up against you it'll be a unpleasant surprise. I've swum my entire life and am extremely comfortable in water but my first time in the reservoir my heart rate went through the roof and I hugged the shore.
    – Stick to the back of the pack for your start, otherwise you'll be run-over and running over others. People vary in whether they stick to the middle or outside (I prefer middle) but you can always make that decision race day.
    -Enjoy the race, not sure if this is your first but if it is: you'll always remember your first triathlon because it's the one that gets you hooked 🙂

    April 7, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Coach Ty

    The swim is definitely the most difficult part for most triathletes. My number on tip for newer swimmer is: 1. Relax -Most athlete choose tense muscle movements, this is actually the opposite of what you need. Keep your body, muscles, and mind relaxed. 2. Exhale -Just like when you run or bike the breathing is the same. Exhale your air out the entire time your face is in the water. This actually will make you less tire and create a better rhythm in your stroke. Hope that helps! http://www.swimmingworkout.net

    July 1, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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